Monthly Archives: October 2009

Halloween House Haunting: Who You Gonna Call?

halloween_haunted_house_3d_2_640x480It’s Halloween!  Got your costumed, alter-ego-ed, shadow-self ready?  Here, on the reservation, we embrace this night with unbridled passion.  It is a match made in heaven. Or  some other dark place that must not be named. Santa Cruz is the revered home of the Mystery Spot. And Halloween is the ancient tradition of All Souls Day cloaked in modern garb.  Tonight the orbit of the spirit world drifts closest to the supposedly safe and secure boundaries of our more mundane, material one.

And at some point tonight,  you’ll give away all the candy, turn out the lights and say goodbye to the ghosts, goblins and lost entities prowling around outside your door.  You’ll  go to bed assuming everything is snugly tucked into its cubby until next year.

But…once you’ve lifted the veil on another world, is it really as simple as putting the Ouiji Board back in the box?

Ever have a strange feeling when going into a particular room ? Ever feel at odds with your house as though you were having a personal disagreement with it? Does something about your home make you depressed?  Do you have trouble concentrating? Getting things done there? Ever walk into someone else’s house and get the immediate urge to leave?

As a Real Estate Agent, I walk into dozens of strange environments on a regular basis – catching brief  snapshots of people’s lives in the process. During some visits I get what I can only describe as a psychic picture of people, their routines and more… through the tiny camera nestled behind my third eye.

Homes often exude emotions like sadness or anger. There can be a sense of confusion or ambiguity present. Certain places feel cold, sterile, bereft of life force just as others feel warm, joyful, delightfully balanced and life-affirming.

So what is this all about? Is it just about good or bad taste in home decorating? Great staging versus left-over shag carpet and avocado green appliances dragging people kicking and screaming back into the psychic wormhole of the “me” decade? A cat litter box that hasn’t been changed in six months?  Too much rap music being played?  Or way too much potpourri polluting the atmosphere?

Yes it can be those things, but no, it can also be a whole lot more than an eerie doll collection, strange acid-flashback color choices or embarrassing boudoir photos plastered all over the walls.

Prospective buyers pick up on the subtle and not so subtle vibrations and ghostly whispers of unseen presences most homes hold. They may not always recognize exactly what they feel but  they usually sense that  it goes beyond an allergic reaction to Country French decor.

Suspend your disbelief for a moment and consider. Most of us clean our homes everyday We vacuum, organize closets, fold clothes. Put things in order so they are well-balanced. Recycle so things can be used again.

If there really is a dimension of unseen energies overlapping the more tangible world of material things in our homes, why don’t we put down the lemon pledge, forget about the dinner dishes and spend more time cleaning, rearranging and recycling all the accumulated dust balls of “dirty” energy piling up under our noses?  How about a regular day of housecleaning dedicated to putting scattered energies in their proper place, getting rid of  tricky energies someone could easily slip on and recycling tired old energies so they can return in a more helpful form.

We’re not talking dust-buster, the quicker-picker-upper or the amazing Ronco miracle mop here. We’re talking about finding the right approach to your own psychic house cleaning. One that combines a finely-tuned radar, an empathetic nature, strong personal boundaries,  a modicum of common sense, the ability to summon will and intention and of course, ready access to a rolodex of spirit helpers to act as subcontractors in the cleaning/clearing process – each with different skills useful for handling different  kinds of energy shifts and delicate spirit situations.

We are born, live and die in our homes. We experience life’s trials, tribulations and transitions in our homes.  Houses hold our lives. They are also containers for the different, sometimes strange energies that enter our lives. Physics tells us that energy cannot be destroyed, Energy can only move on or change form. Psychics tell us the same thing.

If you are still feeling  a little haunted even after the sugar and adrenalin rush of Halloween wears off tomorrow and you happen to notice some odd energy hanging around in the back of your closet, under the stairs or behind your favorite lazy boy chair… take some sage-advice: Do a little smudging and then put in a call to your favorite local shaman to help you with the house work.


Real Estate as Soul Work

(This Column First Appeared on 7/04/09)

ss-space-shots-090901-18.ss_fullEvery once in a while (like now) when the alignment of the planets orbiting around us seems to be changing and  many long accepted notions of how things work  are being challenged, a small window of possibility opens and I begin to daydream…

Maybe the real estate industry will get its act together and start charging a surtax on every commission. They’ll place the money in a special escrow account and fund a secret desert deprogramming facility where serial success addicts can go to get their heads purged of all the hype and  hard-sell that their gung-ho real estate gurus have pumped into them. After 30 days in detox, they will be ready for walkabout – a personal vision quest in search of a more mindful, kinder, gentler way of engaging in a spiritually-infused real estate practice.

This is usually where the cynics start chuckling. Kinder?  Gentler? That’s like putting chum into the shark tank!.  In real estate, nice people finish last. They get chewed up and spit out long before lunch time. This is about green time ($) not namby-pamby sentiment.

But I would humbly suggest that those critics haven’t studied the statistics on how many dutiful agents start out like flashes in the pan only to fail miserably in the first year or two. Or how many good people, after achieving moderate levels of success, burn out by year three or four. I would also venture to say that  too many of us on the inside (who should be mentors) turn a blind eye to the immutable laws of karma and the  sacred principles of abundance. There’s an ineffable quality of the heart missing from the same old/same old we keep trotting out for consumption.

Business as usual should never be business as usual. Work should always mean soul work. A successful day in real estate should be measured by whether you’ve learned something important about being human at the same time you’ve done at least one small thing to make the world better – whether that means telling the  truth to someone who needed to hear it or holding someone’s hand in need of support.   Anything less and we are sleepwalking. Contributing to a black hole of inertia growing faster than the gap in the ozone layer. Taking up valuable space that we aren’t making spiritual mortgage payments on.  Anyone working in real estate just for the money is missing a richness of experience that can’t be bought.

What would a new version of real estate look like? Where would  the  RE-schooling and Re-tooling of so many established stereotypes, institutional patterns and hard to break habits start? Here’s what my own whimsical fantasy of what Real Estate 101’s Core Curriculum might look like:

Clients would never be referred to as “customers” . Anyone who couldn’t get the difference between the two would be re-assigned to shoe sales rather than real estate. We would no longer use the  word “farming” (farming neighborhoods) as though we were herding a bunch of cash cows into a gated subdivision or lining up rows of artichokes ripe for the picking.

We would no longer use the phrase “capturing leads” as though prospective buyers and sellers were enemy prisoners locked in our data bases. Dual Agency wouldn’t exist. Cold calling would end. Door knocking would cease.  No Agent would leave Forget-Me-Not Seeds on my front porch when I’ve never even met them. Tuna casserole recipes would be banned from all real estate newsletters forever. No one would be allowed to declare themselves #1 in anything. The notion of bigger brokerages being better would be recognized as  myth rather than realty. Talking houses would be silenced. Realtor junk mail would be recycled into textbooks for school kids. There would be less escrow paperwork because  we’d stop cutting down so many trees in order to protect so many asses with so many disclosures.

Agents would be required to buy and sell their own homes every three years so they could stay intimately in touch with what their clients are experiencing. Tithing to homeless causes would be mandatory. Aspiring young real estate agents would be sent out on the streets to work with struggling home owners and Section 8 renters to learn more about the deeper meanings of home. A bus would leave for New Orleans tomorrow.

We would no longer say we “sold a home” every time we put a house into escrow. A home would not be considered sold until the deed was recorded and the proceeds check was distributed. In fact, we would banish the word “sales” or “selling” from real estate altogether. By universal acclamation they would be erased from our collective lexicon.  Creative titles like LIFE TRANSITION FACILITATOR would replace real estate salesperson. A real estate of mind would begin to feel more real and a lot less surreal.


Surreal Estate of Mind: Conspiracy or Confederacy of Dunces?

la_condition_humaine-magritteIn solidarity with the times, I’ve renamed today’s column Surreal Estate of Mind. Surreal is often used, when something real begins to take on an altered, disorienting, dream-like quality. You know. Like real estate. Like right now.

I don’t think Oswald acted alone. Drones and Chem Trails populate the sky. Fluoridation is a communist plot. Old, fat Republicans regularly get naked at Bohemian Grove. Freemasons? Bavarian Illuminati? The pyramid on the dollar bill? Yes. Yes. And more Yes! Sasquatch is alive and well and living wherever he wants. And to be completely honest …I think Eisenhower cut a deal with the aliens at a remote airplane hanger outside of Palm Springs in 1957.

It is all of the rest of life and the way things aren’t working in real estate that I’m not sure of…

Maybe it’s a little-known side-effect of the swine flu pandemic but I keep meeting respectable, hard-working, middle class people infected with an odd, feverish, lingering malaise that causes them to imagine they are deer in the headlights, standing nervously in the eye of a hurricane, waiting quietly for the proverbial other shoe to drop.

I may be a conspiracy buff but I’m not a conspiracy nut. I don’t really want to believe there is some giant, premeditated, not-so-secret, conspiracy going on between the Government and the Big Banks when it comes to controlling the hearts and minds of the collective real estate community. I’d prefer to think there weren’t any additional pairs of unseen hands tugging on puppet strings attached to the invisible hand of the marketplace. Or any Machiavellian plot trying to control and manipulate the entire system that controls and manipulates the entire system that I watch real people interact with and try to feel some modicum of control over in the real world of real estate.

So I’m hoping that some of you, with far greater experience than I – those with more formal training, studied insight, astute knowledge, honed perspective, rational answers, intuitive powers – will step up and shout me down. Because I want you to be my passionate and rabid de-bunkers. I really, truly, don’t want to believe that there is a conspiracy afoot trying to suspend my disbelief and convince me to accept the notion that all is well in real estate land and bank land and economy land. Please, tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’ve got nothing to worry about. And that my clients have nothing to worry about. Make the surreal-ness of it all make sense just a little sense.

None of us, working in real estate, have ever been in this place before. This is undiscovered country. No map. No pre-packaged GPS system issued with each listing or each buyer’s pre-approval letter or with every escrow that gets opened. No soothing software voice-over ready to dole out directions on how to get there from here (wherever there is and wherever here is.)

So maybe the things I am seeing, aren’t really there at all. Maybe I’m making them up. Maybe they are just the usual suspects that are always around. Maybe they are mere figments of my imagination rather than the shadowy outlines of something more scary and nefarious lurking in my neck of these dark, dark woods. Maybe no one is responsible for the mysterious machinations I see people wrestling with daily. Maybe it’s just bio-rhythms. Or a ginormous confluence of bad hair days. Or Mercury in Retrograde. Exponentially. Up the yin yang.

All I know is, there are lots of trails leading off in different directions in these woods. I don’t know if any off them will eventually lead the real estate industry back home or not. For the time being, if you follow the scattered bread crumbs on any tangent you care to take, it all just gets curiouser and curiouser…

Why doesn’t it feel better in our guts while reaching for each small bone of good news thrown our way?…What happens when big banks control supply (shadow inventory) and demand (credit crunch) simultaneously at the same time?… If the conspirators achieved their immediate goal of heading off total collapse, when are the real changes and reforms in the system going to start?… If real estate is really getting that better, why would we consider paying everyone to buy a home by giving them all tax credits?…Let me repeat that – paying people to buy homes as a sales gimmick to sell the recovery!…Why not force the banks to release the huge inventory of homes locked in their foreclosure vaults?.. Wouldn’t more supply lower prices for first time buyers?…Who is going to pick up the slack and buy the loans the banks are making, when the Feds bow out soon, as they say they are planning to do?… Won’t interest rates go up?… In a jobless recovery, when incomes are necessary to qualify for full doc loans and interest rates go up and so many people who ought to be buyers already can’t afford the low-end clunkers that investors are paying all cash for…how will the market sustain itself?… How can there be recovery?…Where will the demand come from to meet the supply that eventually has to be released?

Inquiring minds want to know. Conspiracy? Or Confederacy of Dunces? Let me know what you know …


Real Estate Getting Hammered!

mc_hammerIf Dubai was the macro-cosmic joke and post-cautionary tale about the irony of a civilization simultaneously crashing into craters on the moon and on earth…maybe Hammer’s House in the hills above Fremont, California was the micro-cosmic joke. A 40,000 square foot, single, level, six bedroom, six bath, two indoor swimming pools, a 33 seat theater, bowling alley, recording studio, and 17 car garage adorned, of course, with the de riguer fog machine-fountain combo under the porte cochere. A vast sprawl of almost an acre of stucco and cold, black marble floors overlooking what is arguably one of the most soul-less locations (Fremont/Milpitas) in the entire Bay Area.

Hammer Time, of course got Hammered by bankruptcy. Another address for the ego’s excess that bit the dust.

See Hammer Estate at:


Constructing Dubai!

pic06789Here, in the world channel, fact can be stranger than fiction when it comes to some of the surreal stories that surface about real estate. Here, terra firma is not solid ground when it becomes a commodity, within that alternate universe known as “the marketplace.” Rather, it is the sand shifting beneath our feet. And like those sands when they are placed inside the hourglass, so go the daze of our lives….

Several years back, someone sent me these photos of the development dream in Dubai. The same people who were reaching for the heavens with the world’s tallest skyscraper, were also trying to design and build an otherworldly new world Levittown, stocked with pseudo-Mediterranean (with a decidedly Byzantine touch) row houses, each with a pool and their own not-so-private steps to the ocean. A ginormous tract of monstrous, monster homes for the wealthy, nouveau-gauche proletariat of millionaires that the booming economy was creating just as fast as it was creating debt.

Here’s the most recent update de-constructing the dubious debacle of Dubai. This has to be the perfect parable for our times. The Emperor With No Clothes, playing King of the Mountain in a No Man’s Land, reclaimed from the sea. The dike holding the economy broke. And an ocean of debt has reclaimed what was once reclaimed. The Trumped-Up, Sultanate of Swat struck out with his grandiose vision of a series of islands shaped like the world, each country and/or continent sold privately, debt by invitation, to celebutantes, the Donalds and other purveyors of the lite-styles of the rich and squamous.,9171,1929221,00.htm



TiltingatWindmillsThere are interludes that arise, while peering through the glass darkly, when I find myself looking back, with a faint smile and a touch of fondness, at the dark ages of real estate. You know – twenty years ago. Way back in the last millennium. It doesn’t seem that long ago. Even if it feels like it was a completely different world.

I remember a running argument I had with my Broker in those days. I wanted a fax machine for the office. I was young(er) and raring to go. I wanted to stoke the art of the deal, tilt at windmills in search of excellence, banish the snail from the mail and address for success sans the 25 cent stamp. I was ready to get down to bid-ness and negotiate the quickest path there.

A wise Old Tortoise, my Broker’s logic was impeccable. “Tom” he said, “the only way one of these fax machines is going to do us any good is if everyone gets a fax machine.”

He was right and wrong of course. A shiny new fax machine sending signals through the fiber optic lines, was worthless if there wasn’t a compatible fax on the other end to receive the overture and consummate the communication. People “stuff” in a people business was/is and should be a two-way street. In 1989, SPAM was just another 4 letter word for bad canned meat.

He did underestimate the nano-time it would take for everyone to lock down their own inner-Luddite, become enamored with all things E (Email, E-commerce, E Properties, even E Fax!) and get on the turbo-charged bandwagon to take the plunge.

And so began the not so long, not so slow, demise of some of those grand old traditions of higher real estate…. the weekly caravan bus, the cadres of couriers running around town and those clunky tumbler-style, lockboxes that rusted up whenever Agents placed them to close to an errant lawn sprinkler. (We used to carry a can of WD 40 with us to un-stick those things just so we could get into the houses.)

Remember the Realtor’s Bible? The compendium of MLS Listings that came out every two weeks and contained all the new listings? It was printed, bound and delivered like Gideon’s telephone book to the front door of all the local Brokerages. Eager Agents waited in anticipation for its arrival, like kids on Christmas Eve. Yes Virginia, there was a time when you couldn’t just strap yourselves onto a search engine and check out the new listings five times a day.

In its purest form, on its best behavior, with its clearest and most powerful voice, being a Real Estate Agent was always more about being a life transition facilitator, part mid-wife, part spirit-guide for those souls journeying on the walkabout of buying or selling a home. More this, than it ever was about selling hyped-up, widgets off the assembly line of life to people wandering onto the used-house lot to kick a few T-111 tires.

In the average residential real estate transaction, the following people or entities participate in the process: buyer, seller, buyer’s agent, seller’s agent, agents’ brokers, escrow coordinator, title researcher, escrow officer, escrow assistant, loan broker, loan assistant, loan source, underwriter, document preparer, appraiser, home inspector, termite inspector, a ton of other inspectors, the county recorder’s office.

Whose job is it to make sure that all of these people and all these things are talking and communicating to and with one another? Who connects all the little islands of information in the archipelago to make sure that the end result magically materializes at a specific moment in time and space? You know…the Close of Escrow – when the Deed is Done and the Check is Cut.

Unofficially, it has always been the Real Estate Agent’s job, whether they realized it, copped to it or stepped up to the task or not. Real Estate Agents are the only one’s in a position to see the whole of the sum of the parts. They are the only one’s who speak at least a smattering of each of the different languages that are being used. While some folks still think the Agent’s primary job is simply to find that one perfect house or that one perfect buyer, they are missing the essential role of the one right and real person, who should be acting as their trusty ombudsperson while they walk the walk.

When we all took the plunge, twenty years ago, we went from the slow dance to the slam dance. We went from nuanced choreography to the chaos of the mosh pit. And everything got more confusing in the process. More complex. Faster. Out of control. The brilliance of Moore’s Law notwithstanding, more is in many ways less. Not more better. While integrating the circuit we’ve dis-integrated the connections between heart and head and home.

And so, there are some days, some small dizzy interludes, when I find myself reaching for a can of virtual WD 40 to help me unlock the tumblers of an invisible system that is clogged in the fiber optic lines and floating out of control on the ether. Right now, I’d settle for just the fax, M’am.



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FREDERICK NIETZSCHE: Guest Lecturer at the Anthony School of Real

nietzche1I never thought I’d see the day when so many real estate agents were running around quoting Nietzsche. Granted, most of those strained and drained enough to reach for the refrain don’t quite know who Nietzsche was. But the mantra is making the rounds nevertheless, through the hallowed halls of brokers opens from Bonny Doon to Boulder Creek.

I hear it again and again like it is some special pearl of home-spun wisdom, that has risen up on a wave of morphic resonance, to be perfected and polished for this one special profession, in this one special place, at this one special moment in time: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”.

Of course – woe is me – we in Santa Cruz suffer from a collective case of terminal narcissism. So whoever we are, we always think it is all about us. But….man… this whole Nietzsche thing, just doesn’t sound like the Real Estate 101 Course I signed up for, back in the heady days of the late 80’s housing boom.

I don’t recall Anthony Schools including chapters on 18th & 19th century philosophy. Swedenborg doesn’t mesh well with the mysteries of Spanish Land Grants and Kant is a little esoteric even for the existential vagaries of the Rumford Act. I suppose Hegel’s thesis, antithesis and synthesis is practical wisdom for a marketplace where the baby is getting thrown out daily with the bath water and the pendulum of change is careening back from unfettered financial free form towards the other chaotic extreme of radical re-form and unreserved and unrestricted restraint but…

What a long strange trip its been. To find ourselves here. Now. It is decidedly…unreal.

Ask most Real Estate Agents why they are in the business and they’ll say: “To help people.” That’s a reasonable first crack at a Hallmark Card. Probe a little deeper and most of them will fess up and say: “To help people and to make money.” At least that’s more honest. And it’s ok to want to make money – specially if you really are helping people in the process.

As long as we are being honest… Here’s what is killing us… Here’s what is so hard about this market we are so enmeshed in, up to our necks: It is getting more and more difficult to help any of you. By you, I mean, client, consumer, caller, customer. Anyone with a pulse. Any living, breathing person who is all-too-euphemistically referred to as an organic buyer or organic seller. Someone trying to transition their way through a marketplace over-run by non-organic entities and their unruly spawn of asset managers, appraisal management companies, home valuation codes of conduct, shadow inventories and the rest of the laundry list of insidious strictures wrought by an ever-tightening credit crunch.

Some days, I honestly think I’ve won a free but costly, front row seat to watch the decline and fall of Western Civilization. From this vantage point I can see parts of the machine most people can’t see from the bleachers. They are grinding and scraping and flailing away at each other. Everyday things get more lopsided. Groaning under too much weight. From here, it looks like the wheels have already fallen off.

Other days, I’m convinced I’ve been kidnapped by those yayhoos from JACKASS TV. They came in the night, stole me out of bed and sentenced me to life selling real estate on Bizarro World. In the alternative dimension that is Bizarro World, most people spend their time performing random acts of blindness and senseless acts of do-do. They do the opposite of what appears to be in their own self interest or anyone else’s. It is cool to think up stupid lender tricks to kick first time buyers in the ass. It is all strangely, funny-weird instead of funny ha-ha.

And then there are other days, when I just have to remind myself that this is somewhere we’ve never been before. None of us. It is uncharted territory and no one has written the software for the GPS system yet. No one has any idea where True North is, so the needle on the moral compass is on a speed dial binge between fear and greed.

My biggest regret is that it so difficult to explain the prevailing “gestalt” very well to most of you. Those who have been in the business for a while, know what I’m talking about. Even if they think I shouldn’t be risking the self-fulfilling prophecy that says “perception creates realty”. Some of us, unfortunately, are doomed to suffer from Stockholm syndrome and embrace our own captivity until it does kill us.

For the time being, I’m going with Chapter 6 in the revised new world orde school of Anthony Real Estate – Kierkegard: “The task must be made difficult, for only the difficult inspires the noble-hearted.” Stay noble my friends.

Moral Compass

MoralCompassConfused about which direction to take with those tricky little ethical dilemmas that keep popping up in your day-to-day travels? Not certain whether to fudge on that disclosure statement or tell a client what they want to hear rather than the truth? Undecided about a sin of omission or karma accrued by playing on the fears of first-time homebuyers? Order our handy pocket-sized moral compass now. Acts like an internal GPS system that tells you where your heart and conscience are on any given matter. No good Realtor should leave home or sell homes without one.